Verité has previously carried out research on labor conditions in coffee and palm oil production in Guatemala, and has generally found workers employed in agriculture, including sugar production, in Latin America to be highly vulnerable to exploitation, including labor trafficking.
While there have been no recent in-depth studies on worker vulnerability to labor trafficking in the Guatemalan sugar sector, Verité findings from previous research in the Guatemalan agricultural sector and reports from other organizations that have carried out research in other Central American countries indicated a high level of risk among Guatemalan sugarcane harvesters. Therefore, Verité chose to carry out research in the Guatemalan sugar sector.
In October and November 2016, Verité and its longtime local partner, REACH (Research-Education-Action-Change), carried out research on labor conditions in the Guatemalan sugar sector. REACH carried out in-depth desk research, expert consultations, visits to areas of production in the southern coast of Guatemala, and interviews with 38 workers in their communities of origin in the departments of Quiche, Sololá, and Suchitepéquez.
The research found a high degree of vulnerability to labor trafficking among sugarcane harvesters. Indicators of labor trafficking included deception about the nature and conditions of work and housing and living conditions; debt bondage; excessive working hours; poor living conditions; hazardous work; wage manipulation; confiscation of identity documents; isolation, confinement, and surveillance; violence; dismissal; and blacklisting.
Of further concern were widespread reports from sugarcane harvesters of chronic renal failure, due in large part to a lack of breaks, shade, and drinking water; as well as reports that workers were given drinks and pills containing unknown substances, for which they were sometimes charged, so that they could work long hours under physically demanding conditions. Verité will be publishing an in-depth report on the research findings, as well as recommendations for company and government action, in the coming months.
For more information contact Quinn Kepes.